Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Given the Razorbacks rolled into the SEC Tournament Thursday in Nashville off a 70-66 loss at then nationally No. 4 Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. followed by 74-73, 84-48 and 82-70 victories over Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Alabama, surely they would score more on Florida than the 51 they scored on the Gators back in January.
But they didn’t. The 57-51 loss Arkansas suffered in its SEC home opener against the Gators on Jan. 9 at Walton Arena resembled a high point compared to the 66-50 elimination from the SEC Tournament administered by the Gators Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.
The Gators, still in the NCAA Tournament hunt, improve to 18-14 advancing to today’s noon quarterfinal against SEC regular champion LSU.
Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks, 17-15, exit one and done in Nashville and now can only hope that after the 68-team NCAA Tournament berths are filled Sunday afternoon that they will receive a late night Sunday bid to the Postseason NIT.
Establishing themselves and their fast tempo early, Arkansas led by eight then faded slowly ending down 30-28 at halftime then vanished outscored 36-22 for the second half.
Florida didn’t shoot great, 21 of 55 from the field including 8 of 22 treys.
The Gators didn’t need to with their defense surrounding Arkansas center Daniel Gafford, 15 points and six rebounds, but the rest of the Razorbacks not hitting shots to ease the pressure. Arkansas shot but 17 of 46 from the field, 4 of 16 on threes, and didn’t make a field goal during the game’s final eight minutes. They turned it over one more time, 13-12, than Florida, a critical stat with Thursday’s game gone by the boards.
Arkansas actually outrebounded Florida, 42-39 in Fayetteville but the Razorbacks were erased, 41-26 on the boards by Florida in Nashville.
“ You give credit to Florida,” Arkansas assistant coach Melvin Watkins, pinch-hitting for Anderson on postgame radio while Anderson did the mandatory immediately after the SEC Tournament press conference at Bridgestone. “They did a good job with their halfcourt defense. But more disappointing the way we didn’t rebound the basketball. You give up 18, 19 offensive rebounds it’s going to be hard to win any game. Their physicality got the best of us today. When you look up and see two guys going for a ball and one is a Florida guy and one is one of our guys and the Florida guy comes up with the ball, that physicality comes into play. Our guys were fighting but just not quite physical enough today.”
Rebounding isn’t always paramount in the pressing forcing turnovers style that Anderson plays and learned from former Hall of Fame Razorbacks Coach Nolan Richardson but becomes critical if the Hogs aren’t forcing and scoring off opposition turnovers.
“The way we play you might give up some rebounds, but not this big a margin,” Watkins said. “When you do that you set yourself up for failure. We’ve got to force more turnovers. It’s part of our DNA. And when we don’t do that, it makes it very difficult. And some of the turnovers we had they were able to capitalize and score on live ball turnovers.”
Some of those turnovers occurred from trying to force-feed to their mealticket Gafford inside.
“I look at our halfcourt offense we got a little stagnated there,” Watkins said. “We’re trying to force it in a few times too many. You want to look inside but you don’t want to force it inside. We were trying to force it inside and that’s when you’ve got to make a shot. A couple of our guys, (blue-collar forwards Gabe Osabuohien, Adrio Bailey and Reggie Chaney) they aren’t guarding so they (Gators defenders) are just sitting in Dan’s lap. We want to make those guys screeners but that makes it very difficult when they (defenders on Gafford) are just sitting there and we can’t make a shot.”
Often, Arkansas freshman guard Isaiah Joe, the SEC 3-point shooting leader and sophomore guard Mason Jones, 30 points against Florida in Fayetteville, are the outside complementing an inside-out attack that starts with Gafford.
Joe did score 12 but only hit 3 of 11 while and just 2 of 9 treys.
Jones only hit 3 of 10 while scoring seven.
Only one of the seven Gators playing 10 minutes or more, didn’t get at least one rebound. The one, KeVaughn Allen, didn’t need. The Razorbacks killing senior guard and graduate of North Little Rock High who will complete his collegiate career 6-1 against Arkansas, scored 17 Thursday, hitting 6 of 14 from the field including 3 of 7 treys.
Allen actually played second fiddle in the Gators band Thursday. Florida 6-5, 225 freshman Keyontae Johnson double-doubled with a game-leading 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Florida center Kevarrius Hayes grabbed seven rebounds and did much to occupy Gafford freeing Johnson to erase the boards.
The Razorbacks apparently will practice this weekend at Walton Arena hoping they have something to play for if there is a NIT spot for them.
“You look at our resume obviously there are people that are going to look at it,” Watkins said. “We think we have done some work that we are probably going to have a chance to continue to play. So that’s the way we are going to approach. We have to go to work in case our name gets called.
Nate Allen Sports